The Gambia: State of Terror, as a population heads for the hills – Four Year Anniversary


WitchesBy Mathew K. Jallow,

Exactly four years this week, Yahya Jammeh’s witch-hunting exercise was terrorizing Gambians. We dug into the archives in memory of all those who lost their lives and suffered permanent mental and physical injuries.

It was a week of disquiet and frustration; a week that began with a bang and ended with a thud. Before the week was over, the Gambia was once again in the spotlight, and subjected to the curiosity of an international community fixated as much on Yahya Jammeh’s medieval behavior as it was held captive by the asinine character and the maddening comedy he personifies.

For what began with the non-dramatic release of Halifa Sallah from jail, ended with the deaths of twelve and the struggle for survival of three dozen more innocent elderly people around the country. And the events of the week did much to help shape our consciences and motivate us into coalescing around an issue that was baffling to our collective imagination. It is a Gambian reality we cannot afford to shy away from or turn our back on. Even as the international community marveled at Yahya Jammeh’s injurious stupidity and antiquated belief system, there is ample evidence that the world community empathizes with Gambians over Yahya Jammeh’s imperviousness and vexing, impaired and uncultured personality. This became glaringly evident judging by the deluge of critical commentary over the on-going witch-hunting exercise. Despite his infinite political power, and in spite of it, Yahya Jammeh’s antics seem tailor-made for a comedy play set between reality and imagination.

But, if the Yahya Jammeh tragedy, which began with the assassination of former Finance Minister, Koro Ceesay, and escalated into the murders, executions and human rights violations was enough to capture the attention of the international community, the medieval nature of the witch-hunting exercise attracted worldwide attention in ways that evoked worldwide outrage. Fifteen years after Yahya Jammeh began his campaign of brutality against the people of our country, the Gambian media is beginning to gain recognition on international stage, and the Gambian media can be exonerated of accusations of undermining the Gambia’s interest in the international community. The hateful, deceptive and sarcastic rhetoric spewed by Yahya Jammeh’s mean-spirited and obsequious apologists can finally be cast into the dustbin of history. Last week, while the international community was drawn to the caricature of Yahya Jammeh’s ignorant behavior, Gambians were dumbfounded by the level and extent of the brutality to which our country men and women were subjected and horrified by the stolid scenes of witch-hunting and sorcery practices, which after three weeks had become familiar to the chagrin of our countrymen. What Gambians witnessed the past several weeks was history repeating itself, as a nonentity like Yahya Jammeh, drew attention to our country and in so doing expose the tragedy of his regime.

The events of the past three weeks are like the playback of the lives and times of dictators long gone; Idi Amin Dada, Adolf Hitler, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, Josef Stalin and Haile Mariam; people who were the embodiments of evil reincarnate. As tragic as the last three weeks are to our country, Yahya Jammeh, it seems, may have inadvertently drawn the battle lines on the sand. His actions, motivated by raw and boundless power, appeal to a lowest common denominator, devoid of human emotions and hardened by the arrogance of absolute power. To most of us, it is hard to make a sense of the witch-hunting exercise of the last three weeks, which saw our country descended into a state of lawless anarchy, with marauding bands of AFPRC thugs and military officers terrorizing villages across the Kombos and Fonis. We as a country send our young, patriotic men and women in harm’s way on humanitarian operations around Africa, but our own fellow citizens lack the most basic human rights protections our fellow citizens are entitled to as enshrined in our Constitution. Today, our military whose existence is predicated on the protection of our territorial integrity and our fellow citizens, has abdicated its primary responsibility as assigned by our laws and Constitution. Instead, both our military and security forces have fallen under the spell of Yahya Jammeh, a man who has repeatedly shown a total lack commitment or desire to secure the lives of our fellow citizens.

Today, as Gambians wallow in self-pity over the brutality that has become all too familiar, our military and security forces are proving once again that they are not up to the challenge of providing protection to our fellow citizens. More and more, Gambians are exposed increasingly vulnerable to abuse by feckless and hard-core Yahya Jammeh zealots in the police, military and security forces. And over the past many years, countless security check-points mounted by unscrupulous security and military forces, have turned into communications bottlenecks for intimidation, extortion and even outright criminal seizure of citizens assets.  The entire country has been turned into a criminal enterprise governed by unconstitutional rules that transformed the Gambia into a police state. And in spite of the harrowing tales of rapes, savagery and mafia-like intimidation, Gambians are also cognizant of the fact that among the security and military forces, the silent majority is disgusted by what is happening to a people. For a country once renowned as Africa’s bastion of freedom and a haven of the rule of law, the Gambia’s reduction into a terror state, has taken the world by surprise. Around the country, fear of the regime is palpable as innocent citizens are threatened by prospects of falling victim to Yahya Jammeh’s treacherous and insipid abuse of power.

The past few weeks, in the Fonis and many parts of the Kombos region close to Senegal’s southern border, scores of Gambian villagers have fled into the Cassamance to escape capture by Yahya Jammeh’s witch-hunting minions and sadistic criminal enforcers. Moreover, in a recent development, refugees of the long drawn out factional Casamance rebel insurrection are returning to the villages they abandoned to rebel activity, rather than stay in Gambian territory to face the wrath of Yahya Jammeh’s witch-hunters. And in far-away Bureng in the Lower River Division, two hundred miles east of the country, residents who last week congregated on the Basse/Bureng intersection fled helter shelter towards the hills as some military vehicles slowed down to a stop. In Foni Dobong, the villagers led by the indomitable Alkalo successfully mounted a resistance to Yahya Jammeh’s criminal zealots, comprising of AFPRC Green Boys, their military and security accomplices and Guinean witch-doctors dispatched across the country to terrorize our people. Today, our country is experiencing challenging times and we must focus our collective efforts in liberating our country from Yahya Jammeh’s pernicious regime. We must not allow political demagoguery and the mark of tyranny to seep further into our political system.

Additionally, we must reject Yahya Jammeh’s counterproductive and polarizing position, which is injurious to the interests of the Gambian people. Our collective and overarching objective must remain a commitment to the total and absolute annihilation of a regime that has visited so much misery and hopelessness on our country. We must never allow narrow interests to distract from the challenges posted by Yahya Jammeh’s evil regime, even as some self-serving political opportunists deviate from the commitment to the larger national interest of extending to all Gambians, the opportunity to prosper in a safe environment where citizen rights are respected. Only then can our countrymen and women to release their creative imaginations to create the prosperity that has eluded our country for so long. For now, as the witch-hunting exercise continues to visit terror on our country, we must resolve to liberate our country from the orgy of bloodlust and intimidation that has characterized the past fifteen year’s history under Yahya Jammeh’s brutal regime. Together, we must resolve to rescue our country from this unbearable agony and restore dignity and the promise of freedom to our people. For there is nothing we cannot accomplish if we work together. The time to end this long state sponsored terrorism and nightmare is now.


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